Top-seeded Westlake completed an undefeated run through the Marmonte League and is 10-0 heading into the Northern Division playoffs. Led by a pair of juniors, quarterback Justin Moore and running back Dashon Hunt, this might be the beginning of another dynasty-type run for the Warriors. Westlake opens the Northern Division playoffs against Eastside, the fourth-place team from the Golden Valley. As expected, Hart earned the only at-large bid in the Northern Division playoffs. The fourth-place team from the Foothill League finished with a 7-3 record. The Indians were 3-2 in league with losses to Canyon and Saugus. They did beat Valencia, which won a share of the Foothill League championship with Canyon and is the No. 4 seed in the Northern Division playoffs. Hart is another team with some talented underclassman, including freshman receiver Trent Irwin. Simi Valley ended up as the odd-team out. The Pioneers lost to Moorpark in the Marmonte League season finale and dropped into a fourth-place tie with Thousand Oaks and Moorpark. Simi Valley (6-4) ended up with a winning record, but lost the coin flips to determine the final two playoff spots from the Marmonte League. Here’s a breakdown of the division:
The seeds: No. 1 Westlake, No. 2 St. Bonaventure, No. 3 Oaks Christian, No. 4 Valencia.
Best first-round matchup: Thousand Oaks (6-4) at Quartz Hill (8-2) -- Thousand Oaks lost three of its last four games and needed a coin flip to earn a spot in the Northern Division playoffs. But this is a team playing with a ton of emotion after the death of Thousand Oaks backup quarterback Griffen Kramer two weeks ago. Thousand Oaks was tested almost on a weekly basis playing in the tough Marmonte League. Quartz Hill won the Golden League championship and was tied for first place with Highland with 6-1 records. The Rebels are a bit of an unknown commodity. They won seven of their last eight games, the only loss, 21-20, to Knight three weeks ago. Quartz Hill has a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in Osirius Burke (1,549 yards and 24 touchdowns) and Mario Lodge (1,248 yards and 10 touchdowns). Thousand Oaks has a talented two-way player Nathan DeBeikes who leads the team in rushing with 948 yards and seven touchdowns and in sacks with six.
Toughest road: Valencia (6-4) -- The Vikings have perhaps the best defense in the Northern Division playoffs. They posted three shutouts and held nine of their 10 opponents to 20 points or less. Opposing teams are scoring an average of 10.7 points per game. The Valencia offense has been unpredictable at best. The Vikings had trouble scoring during the first give games of the season, with only 13.6 points per game on their way to a 2-3 non-league record. Once the Foothill League season started, Valencia turned it on offensively, scoring at least 31 points in four of its five games. They beat Saugus, 35-0, in the Foothill League championship game. If Valencia's offensive woes return, the Vikings might not make it out of the first round.
Potential shocker: Hart (7-3) vs. Palos Verdes (8-2), first round -- Hart has already pulled off a surprise win over Valencia in the Foothill League. The Indians snapped Valencia’s 13-game league winning streak, 19-14, and was in position to challenge for the Foothill League title. The Indians have the talent and the coaching staff to pull of another upset. What they lack is playoff experience, with a sophomore at quarterback in Connor Wingenroth and a handful of underclassmen receivers. Palos Verdes won the championship in a weak Bay League. The Sea Kings’ toughest test came in the first week of the season, a 21-10 loss to Moorpark.
Darkhorse: Oaks Christian (8-2) -- It’s hard to call the reigning Northern Division champs the dark horse, but Oaks Christian is not the favorite to repeat. The Lions have not been playing their best football for the last three weeks. They narrowly beat Thousand Oaks and Moorpark before routing Newbury Park to finish in second place in the Marmonte League. Oaks Christian likely will have to play Westlake, which beat the Lions, 43-21, and a vengeful St. Bonaventure team if its wants a second Northern Division championship in a row. Oaks Christian beat St. Bonaventure, 36-24, the night the lights went out on La Tienda Drive. The return of Arizona State-bound running back and linebacker Carlos Mendoza, who has missed the last two games because of an injured shoulder, will help.
Final analysis: The Marmonte League is well-represented in the Northern Division bracket, with five teams, and it could have easily been six. The Northern Division semifinals could likely be an all-Marmonte League affair. Westlake has destroyed almost every team it has faced and should have no problem reaching the semifinals with Eastside and Palos Verdes or Hart in its way. Oaks Christian has an easy road to the semis as well, against Mira Costa in the first round and the winner of the Saugus-Highland game in the quarterfinals. St. Bonaventure might be the toughest No. 3 seed in the whole Southern Section playoffs. The Seraphs play an upstart Redondo team in the first round. The winner of the Canyon-Palmdale game will await St. Bonaventure in the quarters. Either Thousand Oaks or Moorpark will have to pull off a playoff surprise if it is to be an all-Marmonte League final four. Thousand Oaks has the easier road, against Quartz Hill in the first round and the winner of the Valencia-Moorpark in the quarters. Moorpark will have to pull off a stunner in the first round. The Musketeers ended the Marmonte League season on a high note, shutting out Simi Valley, 20-0, and essentially knocking the Pioneers out of the playoffs. They will need another stellar defensive performance to eliminate Valencia in the first round. In case you’re wondering, Moorpark beat Thousand Oaks on a last-second field goal, 27-24, in the Marmonte Leage opener.
Championship prediction: Westlake vs.Oaks Christian -- A rematch of last year’s Northern Division championship game would be fitting. Westlake lost the game, 29-28, when Warriors kicker Alex Ball’s 41-yard field-goal attempt hit the upright and bounced back onto the field. Ball would like another shot at winning the Northern Division championship. Westlake coach Jim Benkert would like another shot at beating his old mentor, Oaks Christian coach Bill Redell, for a Northern Divison championship. The Westlake team would like a chance to play in a CIF state bowl game with a Northern Division championship. Redell would like to prove to everyone that last year’s Northern Division championship was not a fluke. If the two teams play again though, Westlake will have the upper hand.